I grew up painfully shy, insurmountably awkward, and by all accounts, very afraid of speaking in public. I had a tendency to swallow huge amounts of air in the middle of my sentences because my throat would dry up from sheer nerves.
It must have been around eighteen years ago when I made (what I thought was) the very reasonable decision to never speak in front of more than two people at a time. My parents responded by enrolling me in a ‘reading for performance’ public speaking competition.
To me, they didn’t know the meaning of the word fear. They had left all their friends and family behind in Chennai, in South India, and started a new life in London four months before I arrived.
As I stood onstage, gulping my way through Shirley Hughes’ ‘Dogger’, I silently cursed them for making me face my fears. I can still remember that I hadn’t even taken off my coat when I got onstage because I was so ready to cut my losses and run out of the room.
Call it fate, or perhaps the sympathy vote, but I have never been so surprised to have won anything as I was that day. I still remember that the judge had interpreted my nervous gulps as ‘dramatic pauses’ (I’m still waiting for my Academy Award, but that’ll do.) That was my very first lesson in perceptions, and how different ours can be from other people’s. Everyone places everything in their own context - the only thing we have control over is whether our approach to the way in which we voice things makes sense in our context.
We all hear the narrative about ‘traditional’ vs ‘non-traditional’ barristers. By most superficial definitions I fall squarely into the latter camp. By my own, very personal, definition, even more so. My experience being ‘non-traditional’ is what brought me to the family Bar. Diversity of perspective and experience begets diversity of representation; nowhere is that more important than in something that has as many permutations as a family.
It is my strongest hope that anyone with dreams of coming to the Bar sees the value in their own voice; whether that means finding it for themselves, or finding its place within a bigger framework.
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